The Butterfly Garden is actually one of my favorite toys of all time. I studied entomology for several years, so when I got the chance to introduce live insects to my kids I jumped at the chance. They were afraid of “bugs”, but butterflies are pretty and relatively un-scary so they were open to the idea.
Waiting for the caterpillars to arrive was hard…for me! But it was downright unbearable for the kids. We had to walk down to the mailbox every day to check for them, day after day after day. Hint – if you get this for your kids, don’t tell them about the caterpillars for a couple of weeks or they will drive you crazy! So finally we got this jar full of golden goop with 5 ugly caterpillars inside. Painted Ladies are not one of God’s prettiest caterpillars, but they are fascinating to watch, especially considering how fast they grow. They were also very easy to keep, since the golden goop is both a material for them to crawl around on, as well as food. So you don’t have to worry about feeding them while they are still caterpillars.
Once they get big enough, they crawl up to the top of the container and spin their cocoons or cases (which contain the chrysalis, a term for the pupal stage of a butterfly or moth). These cases hang from the lid. Not all of them do this at the same time, so you have to wait until all 5 do. Then you open the container, remove the plastic next to the lid, and put it into the Butterfly Garden itself.
As the caterpillars turn into butterflies, you can see them changing color inside of the chrysalides. Right before they are ready to emerge, the chrysalides are very dark. Some of what you see is called “meconium” (yes, the same word as a baby’s first poop). Some of it may stick to the butterflies after they emerge or may drip down the side of the habitat.
Feeding the butterflies is pretty fun. They eat nectar, so you can mix boiling water with sugar, let it cool, and then drip it into flowers you put in the bottom. (I went to the grocery store and asked them for free wilted chrysanthemums.) You can also “treat” them to orange slices.
Letting them go is the fun part. i expected them to fly away immediately after we opened the habitat, but they wouldn’t leave! We finally had to coax them out on our fingers. We saw them around the yard all afternoon, but eventually they were gone. They kids loved it though, and the best part is that you can order replacement caterpillars separately and reuse the habitat.
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